Great Smoky Mountains National Park
North Carolina, Tennessee
The debate between road proponents and wilderness advocates continued to influence road building in GRSM during the post World War II era. This is most evident in the controversy over the proposed Northshore Road that was to run along Fontana Lake from Bryson City to Fontana Dam. According to a 1943 agreement, the National Park Service agreed to construct a new road within park boundaries along the north shore of Fontana Lake in order to replace North Carolina Highway 288, portions of which were flooded when the TVA constructed the dam near Fontana during World War II. In October of 1947 the Park Service began building a short section of this motorway.
When Congress passed the Wilderness Act in 1964, the completion of the Northshore Road was thrown into doubt. According to this law, the federal government could protect public land from all future development, including road construction, by designating such land "wilderness" and adding it to the National Wilderness Preservation System. Wilderness designation could thus kill the Northshore Road project.
In 1965 GRSM became the nation's first testing ground for the Wilderness Act. In that year the federal government held public hearings in Gatlinburg, Tennessee to assess public opinion concerning wilderness designation in GRSM. Two factions dominated the local hearings. On the one hand were hikers, conservationists and outdoor enthusiasts represented by the Smoky Mountains Hiking Club. This group proposed the designation of two large wilderness areas covering approximately three-fourths of the national park. The other contingent hailed from the North Carolina side of the Smokies and opposed any wilderness designation for fear that it would end once and for all construction of the Northshore Road.
In an effort to appease both wilderness advocates and road proponents, GRSM Superintendent George Fry proposed six smaller wilderness areas rather than the two larger ones promoted by the Smoky Mountains Hiking Club. Most importantly, Fry situated these six tracts so as to leave a swath of undesignated land running up and over the crest of the Smokies to allow construction of a 32-mile motor road connecting Townsend, Tennessee with Bryson City, North Carolina. This "Transmountain Highway," Fry believed, would not only relieve congestion along Newfound Gap Road but would also appeal to North Carolinians by serving as a substitute for the troubled Northshore Road project. Although this attempt at compromise between wilderness advocates and road proponents never got off the drawing board, the mediating influence of the Park Service continued to guide the development of GRSM motor roads right down to the present. Similar controversies between the environment and park access continue to delay the completion of Foothills Parkway, begun in 1951, to relieve park traffic.
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